Monday, January 24

The tardigrades have overcome another challenge, but this one is more ‘crazy’ than any other: one of them has intervened in a quantum entanglement

The ways of quantum mechanics are inscrutable. This branch of physics is very unintuitive, but, at the same time, it is exciting, and you are currently enjoying a second youth thanks to the development of quantum computers.

Some of the scientists doing research in this area have shown that they have no qualms about resorting to their imagination if in this way they can find an original idea. And of course this strategy is very respectable. However, what we are about to tell you is the most surprising thing we have discovered in a long time.

What do tardigrades have to do with quantum physics? Or with quantum computers? This is what we have asked ourselves. A priori they have absolutely nothing to do with it. However, before proceeding further, it is worth pausing a moment to remember that a tardigrade is a microscopic living being and invertebrate that tends to be at home in moss, lichens, and ferns.

Tardigrades are capable of adapting to the most adverse circumstances. Withstand ionizing radiation, extreme temperatures and almost inconceivable pressure

Their peculiar physiognomy and their graceful way of moving have caused them to be known as ‘water bears’But none of this is what makes them special.

The reason tardigrades have been making headlines in the media for several years, and with well-founded reasons for doing so, is that they are extraordinarily resilient. Their ability to survive the harshest conditions imaginable has surprised scientists many times, but, as we are about to find out, these ‘little animals’ have yet to say their last word.

And it is that they are not only capable of surviving in the false vacuum of space and of supporting certain forms of ionizing radiation, temperatures between -200 and 150 ºC, and even pressures close to 6000 atmospheres; they have also just shown that they are capable of overcoming the conditions quantum entanglement. There it is.

A tardigrade is not intimidated; not even by a quantum computer

The researchers who have devised the experiment in which we are about to investigate are part of prestigious institutions, such as the University of Oxford, the University of Copenhagen or the Technological University of Nanyang (Singapore), among other highly respected centers. This predisposes us to welcome your proposal with interest, however cathartic it may be. That it is.

And it is that a few hours ago have published an article in which they explain that they have carried out a quantum entanglement experiment between a tardigrade in a state of cryptobiosis coupled to a superconducting qubit and a second qubit. What is surprising is not that two superconducting qubits are entangled, but that a living organism is involved in this mechanism.

Cryptobiosis is, broadly speaking, a state of latency adopted by some living beings when environmental conditions are extremely harsh. Your strategy consists of suspend all metabolic processes until the conditions to which they are exposed allow them to resume their normal metabolic activity. As if this weren’t already surprising enough some scientific studies defend that these beings can remain for centuries in this state.

On the other hand, quantum entanglement does not have an equivalent in classical physics, and it consists in that the state of the quantum systems involved, which can be two or more, is the same. This means that these objects are actually part of the same system, even though they are physically separated. In fact, distance does not matter.

Quantum graded experiment

This is the scheme that the researchers who have carried out this experiment have included in their article. The small tardigrade is positioned in the center of the substrate, right between the superconducting qubits A and B.

If two particles, objects or systems are entangled by this quantum phenomenon, when we measure the physical properties of one of them we will be conditioning instantly the physical properties of the other system with which it is entangled. Even if it is at the other end of the Universe.

It sounds like science fiction, it is true, but as strange and surprising as this phenomenon may seem to us, it has been empirically proven. In fact, it is, together with the superposition of states, one of the fundamental principles of quantum computing. It is amazing that a tardigrade, which no matter how small (they measure between 0.05 and 1.5 mm) is, as we have seen, a living being, may have been part of something like that.

When tardigrades enter a state of cryptobiosis, they suspend all metabolic processes until the conditions to which they are exposed allow them to resume their normal metabolic activity.

In fact, the conditions to which it has been subjected during this process have been extremely rigorous. Among all of them stands out an approximate temperature of -273 ºC (very close to absolute zero, which is -273.15 ºC). And despite suffering these attacks on their own flesh for 420 hours, when scientists left the tardigrade alone and environmental conditions relaxed. returned to normal metabolic activity. As if nothing had happened there.

Some experts in quantum computing, such as Juan José García Ripoll, a researcher at the Fundamental Physics Institute of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) whom we have interviewed, question the conclusions to which the authors of this experiment have arrived. In this Twitter thread, Juan José and other researchers express their reluctance:

Beyond the reasonable doubts that this experiment has raised, it is interesting to see that a tardigrade has been able to overcome once again extremely adverse conditions. In fact, they appear to be the most rigorous that one of these small organisms has ever been subjected to. At least for the human being.

And, if the conclusions reached by the authors of the experiment are finally confirmed, it is possible that the symbiosis between quantum systems and biological organisms will start a new line of research that, who knows, could be promising. No matter what happens, there is no doubt: tardigrades are true superheroes.

Cover image | Frank Fox

More information | arXiv